Wednesday, December 07, 2011

confessions of a jury duty reject, plus what i read in november

So I got booted from jury duty. Is it weird that I feel bummed about it? Especially since it was a child molestation trial, and did I really want to spend my day listening to thirteen-year-olds testify about creepy, thoroughly traumatizing incidents?

The judge asked, as they always do, if there’s anything that might bias you one way or another in this particular case. First, let me say that the number of people who said they didn’t know anyone affected by child abuse was ridiculously high. Do these people not talk to their friends? Aren’t the statistics like one in three?

So I mentioned a young woman I know, whose abuse was more recent and seemingly life-shitifying than that of my friends who’ve figured out how to be strong, functional adults in spite of someone’s best efforts to prevent it. I figured that, if I got dismissed, it would be by the defense. Because clearly I had a beef with child molesters, right? And I did—part of me thought, I want to put this guy in jail! The other part of me strongly believes child molesters are not sub-human; they have a right to fair treatment. Also, maybe this guy was innocent.

See how balanced I am? I would have been a great juror.

But then the prosecution dismissed me! The really focused, down-to-earth attorney with cool tights, whom I’d already decided I liked. I was like, What about me says to you that I’m on the side of child abusers?! And it tapped into all my the-universe-thinks-I’m-not-equipped-to-parent issues. But it’s all good, I went to therapy today. Hopefully the poor kids who have to testify about their trauma to a room full of strangers have a good therapist too. We all deserve one.

Here’s what I read last month:

Mamas and Papas, edited by Kelly Mayhew and Alys Masek: Most anthologies strive for inclusivity, but never have such editorial decisions made me cry just reading the table of contents. In this collection, people who've lost babies are parents too; parenthood is hard-won and not always won at all; papas are not just bumbling sidekicks; and even when everything goes right, the dirty little secret behind the joy is its fragility. As Maureen A. Sherbondy sums it up in "Things That Get Lost," a poem about a brief grocery store separation, "Even after I heard his cry,/ that tone-specific inflection, mama,/ pieces of me were so far gone,/ I could not get them back." There is no shortage of humor, as in Sam Apple's blend of myth-debunking journalism and personal essay, and lyrical beauty, as in Dorianne Laux's wintery poem "Augusta." Together they create the world of this anthology, which is, refreshingly, not a world of new plastic products and squealy baby showers but one I actually recognize--of humans, some of them small, some of them big and searching.

Spook by Mary Roach: As opposed to a serious discussion of science and the supernatural, this book is in the Sarah Vowell tradition of "Hey, want to hear something crazy?" histories. But as the latter, it's lots of fun (and more focused than Vowell). History has provided no shortage of crazy; I was particularly entranced with the chapters about women who produced "ectoplasm" from their ladyparts during seances. There's something to be written there about harnessing female power for purposes other than sex or motherhood. Roach hasn't written it here, nor has she done a lot to dismantle the binary of science VERSUS the afterlife. For example, the fact that various believers who've promised to make contact post mortem have failed at the task doesn't say to me that there's no afterlife; what if our capabilities and priorities just change radically? (I mean, how could they not?) As a philosopher, Roach didn't impress me, but as a storyteller, I enjoyed her very much.

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta: I think most non-famous artists have asked themselves whether their work will make noise in a forest if no one is around to hear/read/view it. The sparsely populated forest in the book is inhabited by Denise and Nik, a brother and sister who grew up as semi-feral rock 'n' roll kids in L.A. Nik is a talented and prolific songwriter, but he only shares his work with a few people and in his "Chronicles," a meticulous documentation of a parallel universe in which he is the (not infallible) king of rock.

But despite the novel's Jonathan Lethem-worthy pomo pop culture savvy, Stone Arabia is first and foremost a book about memory--Denise's narration is intercut with Nik's Chronicles and her daughter's blog, among other sources. And memory is always about the inevitability of loss. Loss comes into play in more immediate and suspenseful forms as well, which made this book a page-turner. I liked its kindness and I empathized with Denise's neuroses (which include a tendency to over-empathize) and her conclusion that people can't be anyone but themselves. But something about the ending left me feeling drifty. I feel like it bears a reread, but until then I'll hold off on that fifth star.

Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts by Laura Benedict: This book may be the final straw in my habit of browsing the sparse shelves of my library's books-on-CD section for novels to listen to during my commute (next time I'll place something on hold that comes with good credentials). The subject matter--black magic, sinful priests, possession--is sensational, but the book is surprisingly boring. The prose lacks the shimmer of mystery that much less explicitly supernatural books deliver.

Mr. Lonely Hearts is the story of three Catholic schoolgirls who ruin a priest's life by accusing him (not totally without warrant) of sexually assaulting them. He seeks revenge, and we get to watch their adult lives destruct. I'm always drawn to stories about how girlhood friendships evolve into adulthood, and this one seemed ripe for metaphorical examinations of morality, culpability, envy and revenge. But while Benedict tries to make the characters three-dimensional by giving them all negative and positive traits, they all feel flat, and there's no real protagonist. Above all, I think this novel is just kind of tone deaf. It doesn't help that the male characters have names like Thad, Jock and Varick (hi, daytime soap/porn!). Or that Benedict traffics in one of my new least favorite stereotypes: the brittle, unhinged infertile woman (her pregnant foil is earthy and innocent). Or that the actress who narrated the CD did inconsistent accents and pronounced "santeria" to rhyme with "cafeteria."


Claire said...

"Do these people not talk to their friends? Aren’t the statistics like one in three?"

I was thinking 1 in 4 or 1 in 7, but I'm pulling those numbers from my college days. And I think, no, those people do not talk to their friends about the heavy stuff. Plenty of people who don't want to know how much abuse is out there and how close to home it may be, I imagine.

Cheryl said...

I think it's so much more depressing NOT to talk about life's dark corners, because then you feel like you're in them (whatever your particular corners are) all by yourself. (Says the girl who's been taking TMI blogging to new levels this year.)